The Chicago Cubs defeated the New York Mets last night, 9-5, clinching home field advantage throughout the National League playoffs and damaging the Mets’ playoff hopes.

This morning’s New York Times reminds us of a match-up between baseball clubs from Chicago and New York that took place one hundred years ago today in the old Polo Grounds in Harlem, which also adversely affected the New York team’s playoff chances.

On September 23, 1908, the New York Giants had a one-game lead over the Chicago Cubs in the standings, and their game was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth. With a man on first and two outs, nineteen-year-old Fred Merkle, the Giants’ rookie first baseman, hit a single, sending the runner to third. The next batter hit a fastball over second base, a clear base hit, and the man on third scored, giving the game to the Giants. Had the ball not been hit out of the infield, Merkle could have been called out at second on a force play, but because the ball was hit out of the infield, Merkle didn’t run all the way to second — which was customary. But Johnny Evers, the Chicago second baseman, retrieved the ball, took it to second, argued that Merkle should be called out and the run nullified. The umpire at second refused to rule, but at 10:00 p.m. — from the safety of his hotel room — he ruled Merkle out.


 New York Giants first baseman Fred Merkle in 1908.

To make a long story short, the game was ruled a tie; the Cubs and Giants ended the regular season tied, forcing a one-game playoff — which Chicago won. They went on to defeat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series — and that was the last World Series the club ever won. Make of that what you will.

Merkle went on to have a respectable 14-year career, but he never really lived down his “mistake” — which, given the conventions in use at the time, wasn’t really a mistake at all.

Kevin Baker’s account in the Times is more detailed and a lot more vivid. Take a look.

And you can read the Times account of the game from one hundred years ago here.